Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding now way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
A number of years ago, I heard this personal story from a pastor: one morning he was sitting with his family eating breakfast. He was eating a bowl of cereal. One moment he was chatting and laughing with his children. The next he had fallen face forward into the bowl – milk splashing everywhere. To hear him tell the story, the next moment he woke up days later to the news that he had a brain tumor. Of course, he had missed all the panic and anxiety of his wife and kids calling 911, of the ambulance trip to the hospital, the impatient waiting of emergency surgery, and the news that he had a tumor the size of a golf ball in his brain – a tumor that was likely terminal.
And so began a journey that ended up lasting 2 years for him and his family; a journey of treatments, sickness, medications and chemotherapy, shaved heads, and fund raising to help cover the costs of life and treatment. As he tells it, at the beginning of the journey he was full of frustration and fear, full of anger and sometimes apathy as he just wanted to give up. His marriage became strained and his relationship to his kids grew distant.
At some point along the way, something changed. He began to wonder, at first in his heart and then aloud in prayer, and then in conversation with a few trusted friends, “What might God's will be for me in this moment? If I preach a sovereign God, can I live with a sovereign God? More importantly and more pressingly, can I die in the sovereignty God?” And that was the beginning of a process of transformation in his heart and life. Slowly, he began to see opportunities that God was giving him to talk about the comfort of the gospel. He became more intentional with his wife kids. His heart was softened, and he could empathize more with those in the midst of their own dark nights of the soul. He invited a group of people to surround him and his family in prayer. Weekly they would meet, asking for healing, but also for peace and faith in the midst of a lack of understanding and in the face of the unknown.
Amazingly, whether by miracle or medicine (and I believe that the two aren’t mutually exclusive) he was declared, not only in remission, but cancer free! Almost 15 years later, his story continues to inspire me and many others. I know not everyone is healed like he was. I know most people don’t recover after a terminal diagnosis. I know people who have faced death and dying with beauty and trust that is equally as magnificent. And I have journeyed with people who could not face death and dying in that same way.
The reason I begin with this story is not to emphasize God's healing or his provision. Rather, it is to share how this story has impacted me. It's to highlight that hearing stories of God at work in someone else’s life encourages my life of faith. And of course, as we tell our stories, they don't all have to be stories with happy endings. Stories of hurts and pain, stories of doubt and questions, stories of struggling faith shared in communities of trust, also have the effect of buoying our faith.
Psalm 107:2 instructs, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…” and what follows is different groups of people – representing different experiences of God’s redeeming work – being invited to share their stories. Vs. 4 begins, “Some wandered in desert wastelands…” Vss. 10, 17,23 begin a subsection for other stories. The final subsection, vs. 33-41, turns the story to reflect God’s action in providing for his redeemed. Each subsection ends with an instruction for the people, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind…” (vs. 8-9; cf. 15-16, 31-32,42-43 [the verbal form of vs. 42, “The upright see and rejoice…” is the same as all the others in this pairing and so might better read as another instruction, “Let the upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths.” This translation would also continue the poetic structure more closely to the original Hebrew]).
I believe the thrust of the instruction to the redeemed to tell their stories (vs. 2) therefore culminates in what telling those stories can do in the lives of the different groups. To paraphrase, “Tell your story… so that they give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and wonderful deeds because he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry (vs. 8-9); tell your story… so that they may give thanks to the Lord… because he breaks down the gates and cuts through bars of iron (vs. 15-16; see also, Ps. 146:7; Is. 51:14, 61:1; Zech. 9:11; Lk. 4:18); tell your story… so that they may give thanks to the Lord… and sacrifice with thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy (vs.21-22); tell your story… so that they may give thanks to the Lord… and exalt him in the assembly and praise him in the council of the elders (vs. 31-32).”
Tell you story because it will cause the upright, the redeemed, those who share in receiving God’s work in the world, to rejoice; tell you story because trusting in the Lord’s provision – whatever form it ends up taking – is the path of wisdom (vs. 42-43).
And so, let me ask, when was the last time you told your story of faith to someone? When was the last time you shared your experience of God with another struggling believer? In my experience – no matter how much joy we get when we hear about God working in the lives of others, so many of us struggle to connect that back to the notion that our own stories might do the same for another. One of the practical and lived truths of Psalm 107 is that God uses our stories for his glory! God uses our experiences of faith – and even faithlessness – to spur the faith journey of another.
I get that many of us feel like our stories aren’t exciting or we believe they have to be resolved before they are worth sharing – but that is not the testimony of Psalm 107, not is that the experience we have with other people’s stories. And so, I wonder, will you commit to having a faith-filled, story-telling conversation with another person today? Tell someone where you have seen God at work in your life recently – whether miraculous or mundane. Tell someone where you need to see God at work and what that struggle has been like if you don’t see him. Parents, share a story with your kids tonight at the dinner table. Friend, tell a friend over coffee. Lean up against your locker at school and say, “You will never believe what I think I saw God do in my life on the weekend…”
Open your eyes, open your lives, and I can promise your story will encourage another – because your story is part of how God writes theirs.
Lord Jesus, you make beautiful things our broken vessels, you write beautiful stories out of our lives. Holy Spirit, help us to share those testimonies of your activity in our hearts and lives and use them to draw others closer to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen!